The word buzzed around the Mohegan Sun Arena like a middle school rumor: League MVP and Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne was taking warm up before the game. And although she had left Game 2 of the WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun with a herniated desk, she looked like nothing was out of order.

Just minutes before tip-off, the team would confirm that Delle Donne was in the starting lineup.

But Mystics head coach Mike Thibault didn't find out Delle Donne was good to go until about 35 minutes before game time.

"I woke up this morning assuming she wasn't gonna play," he said.

Delle Donne put up 13 points, which was low by her standards. But her performance helped spark the Mystics to a 94-81 win over the Sun, putting them within one game of a championship and backing Connecticut into a corner.

After the game, Delle Donne praised the Mystics' medical staff for helping her get ready over the five-day break between Games 2 and 3.

"We really didn't know if I was gonna be able to go today 'cause I hadn't done anything until right up before the game, and we were able to kind of test it a little bit and go from there," she said.

Mystics guard Kristi Tolliver, who finished with 20 points and 10 assists, said seeing Delle Donne on the court meant "everything" to the team.

"Her presence alone, whether she's 100 percent or 10 percent just instills confidence in the rest of the group," she said. "You know, she showed a lot of character, showed a lot of heart just being out there on the floor today, because she's obviously not feeling great."

But although Delle Donne's unexpected start was big, the team's performance as a unit was larger than just one person.

The Mystics looked like they couldn't miss from deep at times, finishing the night with 16 three pointers on 27 attempts. Guard Natasha Cloud was stellar from beyond the arc, going five of 10 for the night and finishing with 19 points, while Emma Meeseman was three of four from beyond the three-point line and had a team high 21 points.

Washington's dominance started in the first quarter, when the Mystics took control and ended with a 32-17 lead.

"All three games have been decided in the first quarter, essentially," said Sun head coach Curt Miller. "There hasn't been a close first quarter in this series yet."

Although the Sun came within one point several times, they never recovered the lead from Washington.

Now the onus is on Connecticut to regroup and respond in a do-or-die Game 4 back at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It's the first time the team has been to the WNBA Finals since 2005. And the challenge isn't something they're looking to back down from.

"We're a team that's in this situation for a reason. We're not gonna panic," said Sun forward Jonquel Jones. "We understand that we're just as capable as getting hot and winning games as they are."